Exploring Native American Heritage in St. Pete/Clearwater

For thousands of years, two Native American tribes – the Tocobaga people and the Weeden Island people – lived in what is now St. Pete/Clearwater.

A couple looks at paintings in the James Museum

Paintings at the James Museum depict perspectives of Indigenous peoples in the American West.

When the first Spanish conquerors arrived in the 1500s in the area that is now Florida, life was disrupted for Native American peoples. The Indigenous people suffered greatly, and within a century, the tribes had died off from violence and disease. Today, visitors can learn more about the lives of Native Americans in the region and in the U.S. by visiting museums, parks and preserves to see artwork as well as historical and cultural artifacts. Here are four ways to learn about the fascinating history of Native Americans in St. Pete/Clearwater.

1

Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center

Begin your deep dive into St. Pete/Clearwater’s Native American history with a visit to the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center. The small, not-for-profit museum in Safety Harbor is a good place to get an introduction to the Tocobaga. View shell tools, pottery shards and handcrafted beads, and explore dioramas that tell the stories of the people, who built a complex society centered around small villages, and who thrived on food they hunted and gathered.

Given that the museum covers 12,000 years of history, the exhibits don’t stop with stories about the local Indigenous people. You can also learn more about Spanish conquerors, explore Florida’s role in the Civil War, and see photos from the turn of the century when an influx of people occurred.
 

Learn About the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center
2

Native American Mounds

A woman walking along a street flanked by wild oak trees at Philippe Park

Native American middens – small mounds that dot the landscape – are very real evidence of the presence of Indigenous peoples. Made of dirt, sand, shells and stones, some mounds were used as the base of a religious building or a leader’s home, while others functioned as sacred burial grounds or refuse piles.

Head to Safety Harbor’s Philippe Park to explore the largest remaining mound in the area. As the main gathering place of the Tocobaga people, the park's Tocobaga Temple Mound stands 20 feet high and is believed to have been used for ceremonies. Visit this National Historic Landmark to read about its history on informational signs and enjoy expansive views of Tampa Bay.

Numerous other Native American mounds are found throughout St. Pete/Clearwater. Stop by the hidden Indian Mound Park (also known as the Indian Burial Mounds), tucked into a residential neighborhood near the southern tip of St. Pete. Or take a tour of the Anderson-Narváez Mound and its small museum, located adjacent to Jungle Prada Park, with Discover Florida Tours.
 

Learn About Philippe Park
3

Weedon Island Preserve

A wide angle shot of the overlook tower at Weedon Island

A Place to Remember

Weedon Island Preserve is a 3,190-acre preserve located on Tampa Bay.

In addition to the Tocobaga people, the St. Pete/Clearwater area was once home to the Weeden Island people. As you might expect based on the name, this tribe lived in and around what is now Weedon Island Preserve in north St. Petersburg.

The preserve’s three-story Cultural and Natural History Center is filled with interactive exhibits and artifacts that were found in the preserve. Discover how much can be learned about this Indigenous people’s way of life from what was left behind, including arrowheads, pottery, pottery shards, bones, stone tools, shell fragments and even a hand-carved dugout canoe.

Beyond the cultural center, visitors can look for shorebirds along the boardwalk, climb the observation tower and rent kayaks to explore mangrove tunnels and waterways.

Learn About Weedon Island Preserve
4

The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art

A couple looks at a sculpture in the airy lobby of the James Museum.

Begin in the airy lobby of the museum, called the Arroyo.

Broaden your knowledge of Native American heritage with a visit to The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, in St. Pete's Central Arts District. The expansive, one-of-a-kind museum is home to eight galleries filled with hundreds of paintings, sculptures, jewelry and other works of art, mostly depicting the people and places of the American West. In the Native Artists Gallery, visitors can see works by 20th- and 21st-century Indigenous artists based in the Southwest. Frequent guest speakers, special events and other programming round out the museum’s exciting offerings. 

Learn About The James Museum